1512065791

Five Books. California and the West, Odd Photos, Las Vegas, Real Estate Photographs, Night Walk. Photographs by Henry Wessel.

Five Books.

California and the West, Odd Photos, Las Vegas, Real Estate Photographs, Night Walk.

Photographs by Henry Wessel.
Steidl, Gottingen, 2005. 154 pp., Slipcased, 56 color illustrations, 10x9½".

What a prodigy of wonders Mr. Wessel has bequeathed us. In only five small softbound volumes, packaged in a plain white box, he has crammed in all the emptiness in the western United States. Working from a mostly black-and-white, small-format aesthetic, Wessel brings us back to the root excitement of the photographic frame, as interpreted by Frank, Friedlander, O'Sullivan, Winogrand, Josephson, Robert Adams and many others. His style is deadpan, with a gentle grey texture reminiscent of southern California beach sand at high noon. All emotional thunder is flattened to the tepid middling tones of windless desert glare and hissing nighttime sprinklers. His work is divided into five categories for easy reference, though the overall visual project remains remarkably consistent throughout: California and the West; Odd Photos; Las Vegas; Real Estate Photographs; and Night Walk. In the course of traversing Wessel's terrain, one begins to realize that the titles could be readily transposed: his Vegas pictures are ineffable and odd; the people that populate California and the West are really a bronzed form of real estate; and his night walks epitomize the elegant creepiness of desert living in the heart of Los Angeles. The hardest thing to pin down in this work is the photographer. His shadow appears periodically, a la Friedlander, but the short texts that begin each book are mostly either factual, detailing when and where the pictures were made, or more personal meditations on light, time and the joys of the precognitive photographic chase and capture. But what does Wessel think about the places and people he sees, frames, freezes? That may be beside the point. In the end, the pleasure of responding to the world by pushing a button is its own justification; the thrill of discovery in the field (and at leisure, examining the collected loot) is eloquently summed up in Wessel's forward to California and the West: "The process of photographing is a pleasure, eyes open, receptive, sensing, and at some point, connecting. It's thrilling to be outside your mind, your eyes far ahead of your thoughts." PHIL HARRIS

This review was originally published in the Fall 2006 issue of the photo-eye Booklist. To learn more about the Booklist click here.

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